Coping with Growth: Land Use Controls for the 21st Century

Economic and population growth in Springfield and Southwest Missouri has placed development pressure on many areas which merit protection. These include areas of historic significance; green space or agricultural areas; and environmentally sensitive zones, such as sinkholes, watersheds and spring recharge areas.

Several land use controls have been developed to limit development in these areas while also providing incentives to the owners of such properties.

One such method is the conservation easement. It is a private restriction granted to a governmental or charitable organization that gives away the right to develop the property for certain uses, while still allowing others. An example would be an easement, which would prevent residential or commercial development on a particular tract of land, but still allow agricultural or recreational use.

Conservation easements may be used to protect properties as diverse as an historic faade to a building in downtown Springfield or undeveloped farm land adjoining the historic Wilson's Creek National Battlefield in unincorporated Greene County.

In addition, if certain requirements of the Internal Revenue Code are met, conservation easements may qualify for significant income, estate and/or gift tax benefits.

Greene County has developed a unique land-use concept that couples the placement of a conservation easement on part of a tract of land with a "density bonus" being awarded for development on the remaining portion of the tract.

Under the County's Conservation Development District regulations, the open-space portion set aside by the development can be used for conservation of natural or cultural features, agricultural uses, horse stables and trails, recreational pedestrian trails and various other recreational uses for the adjoining homeowners.

In exchange for setting aside 40% of a parceled area for such open space, a developer may be allowed a density bonus on the remaining parcel of the tract of up to 50% over the otherwise allowable density. For a significant cultural preservation or public use area, the size of the required set-aside may be reduced.

Another step further in this process of allowing a "density bonus" is the system of transferable development rights or TDR. This actually allows rights of development on one parcel of land to be sold another person for use on an entirely different parcel of property.

The oldest, best-known TDR program was created in New York City in 1965 as part of...

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